Leaving a Legacy

“All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them” Walt Disney

clientuploads/Legacy Linda Family.jpgAs much as I enjoy helping each of my guests at The Travel Agent plan memorable trips, sometimes unique friendships develop through the planning process. Linda Hansen, of Dixon, Illinois, is one of those special clients who has become a friend.  Linda’s sister, Cheri, contacted me to plan a special Disney World vacation for Linda, two of her sons and their families. I’ve planned countless Disney vacations, but this one was unlike any other because Linda has terminal cancer. Her last wishes were that, instead of leaving her grandchildren a monetary inheritance, she wanted to take them on a vacation that they’d never forget.

Linda’s vision was to leave a legacy for her twelve grandchildren. She wanted them to always remember that their first time on an airplane was with Grandma and Grandma was with them on their first trip to Disney.  Without a doubt, the memories from this trip were going to be unforgettable! We decided on the new Disney’s Art of Animation Resort for the Hansen family and set the vacation for mid-May. Two Finding Nemo Family Suites at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort would accommodate Linda along with Larry and his family and Tyee and his family. Knowing that Disney is so accommodating to individuals with special needs, I knew that Linda was in good hands.

The trip was full of adventure and unexpected surprises! Some things take us by surprise when we think we know what we are getting into and it turns out to be completely different. Knowing Walt Disney’s deep love for trains, Linda was looking forward to taking a leisurely loop on the WDW Railroad to see the park from a different viewpoint. After being secured in her seat, you can imagine her shock when the railroad car lurched forward and accelerated toward a hill.  Her “nostalgic ride” turned out to be none other than Big Thunder Mountain Railroad—a thrill rollercoaster! The momentum of the coaster pushed her into her son Larry’s lap, and she closed her eyes and braced herself for the ride of her life! Larry put his hand on her head and yelled out to her, “Don’t worry, Mom!  I’ve got your hat!” The grandkids were squealing with delight, saying “Grandma, you got to ride your first rollercoaster with ME!”

clientuploads/Legacy Chef Mickey.jpgLinda and her family visited each Disney World park and enjoyed special meals at Chef Mickey’s, ‘Ohana, The Crystal Palace, Tusker House and Akershus Royal Banquet Hall where her youngest granddaughter celebrated her third birthday. Even though she may have been slowed down a bit by a wheelchair as she navigated the parks, Linda’s enthusiasm, determination, and love for her family kept the energy level high and the good times rolling.  Linda said it was important to her to leave a legacy for her grandchildren and to inspire other cancer patients to live out their dreams and check off those items on their bucket list. She wants to encourage all individuals who have an illness to get out and live. And live she certainly does.

After the Disney trip, Linda and her sister Cheri and Cheri’s husband, Dan, came over to my house to show me pictures of the family at the Disney parks and restaurants.  This was such a rare privilege for me to meet with guests after the trip and view their photos. I enjoyed the opportunity to ask questions and have Linda “introduce” me to all the grandchildren!

Linda has three sons, but only two were able to go on the Disney vacation. Gary was unable to go because his wife, Angela, was serving in Afghanastan and could not return home until summer. Another item on Linda’s bucket list was to see whales–Cheri suggested an Alaskan cruise. Cheri and I went to work again and found a cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas during the first week of August, soon after Angela’s scheduled return home. There were times of anxiousness when Linda wondered if Angela would be able to make it, and I was even nervous for her as I assembled all the travel documents together. To add to the tension, Linda was admitted to the hospital the morning she was supposed to fly out to Seattle. Her blood count was low and she needed a blood transfusion at 4:00 am before she boarded the aircraft! She said nothing was going to stop her getting on that cruise ship, and as I have realized about Linda, when she is serious about something she makes it happen!

All of the family arrived at the airport and made it to the ship on time, even though two different transfer companies literally fought over who would have the privilege of driving the family of eight to the cruise terminal! There were many special moments on the cruise.

Linda and Gary shared a special mother-son experience on a whale-watching excursion in Juneau–a gift from Cheri. As Gary pushed Linda’s wheelchair and walked along with the group on the excursion, someone overheard him say that seeing the whales was one of Linda’s last wishes. The expedition’s naturalist guide asked to hold Linda’s camera and took pictures of the whales and black dolphins to capture the memory. Linda had the best photos of anyone who went on the whale watch that day! Here are Linda’s direct words to describe her feelings:

I went on an Alaskan cruise with my oldest son and his family to fulfill my last wishes. I dreamed of seeing whales swimming in the wild. Gary and I took a ‘Whale Excursion’ in Juneau. My dreams came true! I saw Killer whales, Humpback whales, black dolphins and seals. It made my heart swell at the sight. Alaska was more beautiful than I could have imagined!.

I encourage all other Cancer patients to live your dreams. Love unconditionally. And treasure every moment God gives you.

Linda enjoyed seeing her beautiful granddaughters and handsome grandsons get dressed up for dinner on the cruise ship. The grandchildren went shopping before the cruise to get new clothes, and she enjoyed teaching them etiquette at dinner. The grandsons took fine dining to a whole new level–they asked the server for suggestions and made great efforts to talk in formal, sophisticated language at dinner. As you can imagine, hilarity ensued but it was a wonderful opportunity for them to both learn about formal dining and have a good laugh with grandma!

clientuploads/Legacy Cruise.jpgOf all the memories of the cruise, Linda’s favorite time was the day her entire family got to take a walk for the Make a Wish Foundation. Angela purchased t-shirts for the whole family and they joined the captain of the ship, along with countless other families to take a walk on the trip to support the dreams of other people with terminal illnesses.

After returning from the trip, Linda and I spoke on the phone–I wanted to hear the stories! Her favorite souvenir from the trip was a marble carved whale’s tail that Gary bought for her as a memento from their excursion.  This is a tangible reminder for her to encourage all her friends with cancer, whether she knows them or not, to live out their dreams and not sit at home!

I aksed Linda what other items are on her bucket list besides Disney World and seeing whales. She said one of her grandsons, Devon, has ADHD and Aspergers syndrome and is preparing for his confirmation. She is homeschooling him in his catechism and is looking forward to his upcoming confirmation.

clientuploads/Legacy Linda.jpgLinda is not just a client of mine or even just a friend. Her choices of how she spends her time and her resources have earned her hero status in my mind and heart. She is one of those people who have touched my life so deeply in the short amount of time that I have spent with her. I will always remember her charge to me and to anyone who will listen. Go out and live your dreams. They don’t just come to you. You have to go find them!

Bless you, Linda, for the lesson you have taught all of us—Let’s all go follow our dreams!